Loyalty An Enduring Attribute of Character

Loyalty is a unique trait. It isn’t grey. It is black and white – either one has it or does not have it at all

The Narrative World    24-Jan-2023   
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Nostalgia is an inalienable facet of human psyche. Life during the autumn years is always replete with reminiscences of the past events appearing in flashback. Some incidents leave a lasting impact and get embedded in one’s subconscious memory. One keeps living and reliving them, trying to decipher their true significance. Let me recall one such event that occurred in November 1978.
I was the Brigade Major of a mountain brigade in the high altitude area of East Sikkim. The Brigade Headquarters was located at Thegu. The Brigade Commander, Brigadier VK Das, VSM, a military leader of repute, was on leave and I was holding the fort at the Brigade Headquarters.
One of the staff officers, a young Captain, went on a short leave to Pune to visit his wife and the new born child. On his way back to Thegu, the officer was caught in a red-light area in Kolkata with a call girl. A report to that effect was received from the Military Police. Considering it to be a caper of young blood, I did not take too serious a view of the matter and closed it after admonishing him.
On his return, Brigadier Das saw the report and was visibly upset. I told him that it was a stupid folly of a young Captain and did not warrant any major disciplinary action. He was not convinced and said, “I am not talking about the disciplinary aspect of his misdemeanour.
I am worried about the qualities of his character. He went home on leave to meet his wife and child. And, on his way back, he visits a call girl. What do you say about his sense of loyalty? If a man cannot be loyal to his wife, the one who spends her complete life with him, gives him children and raises his family, how can he be loyal to his nation?”
“Loyalty is a trait of character. Either one has it in one’s DNA or one does not have it all. It cannot be selective or discriminatory. Moreover, loyalty cannot be partial. One is either absolutely loyal or not loyal at all. There are no shades to it,” he added solemnly.
The term ‘loyalty’ defies a single universally accepted definition. It means different things to different people. However, in its simplest form, it means unflinching support or allegiance to a person, group, cause, philosophy, ideology, heritage or nation. Although loyalty has also been defined as fidelity, fealty, adherence, commitment and devotion; it is generally considered synonymous with faithfulness.
The above incident took place nearly four decades ago. I was perhaps too young to comprehend the full import of Brigadier Das’s statement at that time. To date, I keep wondering if his views about loyalty hold good when viewed in a broader perspective. Can a person who is unfaithful by nature ever be trusted in any matter? Will such a person ever remain true to his family, friends, faith, heritage and country?
Loyalty to Country
Loyalty to the country, in its simplest form, means – ‘an unflinching belief that the interests of one’s nation-state are supreme and take precedence over everything else’. On the other hand, the gamut of disloyalty (or anti-nationalism) is vast. Whereas overt acts include violence, agitations and social unrest, covert activities include seditious subterfuges that cause social disharmony, generate dissentions amongst the people, make citizens lose confidence in the governing regime and defame the country internationally.
“Disloyalty to the nation has two key imperatives. One, it does not incubate in innocence but flows from malicious intent, albeit camouflaged under high sounding ideological phrases. Two, anti-national acts are carried out by the perpetrators in full knowledge of the ensuing detrimental impact on national interests. Seditious acts and utterances that bring disgrace and disrepute to the country are always anti-national in intent.”
The self-proclaimed secular intelligentsia has done the maximum damage to India’s prestige and standing. Some of them appear to be fifth columnists masquerading as progressive intellectuals. They get rewarded handsomely for their perfidious acts by the forces inimical to Indian interests.
Political leaders are the fountainhead of all fissiparous tendencies. For them, vote bank politics take precedence over everything else. One does not have to be a visionary to predict the danger of abetting illegal migration from Bangladesh for garnering votes. But unscrupulous political leaders carry on unconcerned with their anti-national policies.
Many social-media activists indulge in spreading negativity in the environment. For them, India is a cheerless country with no hope. They see darkness and spread pessimism. But then, they get huge remunerations for their treacherous acts.
Loyalty to Faith and Religion
A few years ago, I had an interesting discussion with an erudite intellectual on board a flight. He was of the view that change of faith/religion was symptomatic of an acute weakness of character, revealing a streak of disloyalty in one’s DNA and must be viewed with concern. According to him, “No one changes faith/religion for the sake of ideology, philosophy or beliefs.
In most cases, they are totally ignorant of the tenets of the new religion. They adopt it as it appears financially and materially enticing. The rewards may come in terms of pecuniary benefits, education for the children, medical facilities and better job opportunities. That is the reason why almost all of them belong to the poorest segments of the society.
“In addition, conversion may be due to the threat of force or to curry favour with the ruling dispensation. Many rich and well-educated people change their faith/religion in order to gain acceptance in the high society. It is no surprise that several aspiring technocrats/academicians change their religion when they migrate to the West in search of awards and recognition.”
According to him, people who betray their faith/religion display a distinct lack of loyalty in their DNA. For, if a man can sell his faith/religion, he can easily sell everything else as well.
Loyalty to Heritage
In 2014, we visited Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. We were surprised to see the picture of Lord Ganesh on its 20,000 rupiah currency notes; the most prestigious institute of technology having Lord Ganesh in its logo; Indonesia’s official airline being called Garuda (Lord Vishnu’s mount); and the official bank named after Kubera (the Hindu god of wealth). Indonesia has also issued many stamps on the two epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In Bali, statues of Hindu deities adorn most public places.
For us, it was a puzzling experience – a Muslim country honouring Hindu gods. Seeing our perplexed faces, Mustafa, the local guide explained, “Earlier all of us were Hindus and worshipped these gods. They are a part of our heritage and ancestry. Should we disown our heritage?” The silence amongst the listeners was deafening. His parting shot was, “Those who renounce their heritage have elements of disloyalty embedded in their character. They end up becoming cultural orphans”.
It was a revealing discourse. In a few sentences, Mustafa had taught us what we Indians have not learnt for centuries. Loyalty denotes allegiance to heritage as well. India is perhaps the only country in the world that is ashamed of its heritage. Whereas the whole world applauds India for its Vedic knowledge, philosophical expositions, ayurveda, yoga and a host of other gifts to humanity, our Westernised intelligentsia carries on disowning our heritage, thereby exposing sinister traits of disloyalty.
Ancient scriptures term loyalty to be a meta-virtue, a function of one’s conscience and a reflection of one’s value system and allegiance to ethical conduct. Pascal Mercier calls loyalty ‘a resolution of the soul’.
Josiah Royce, author of the authoritative book ‘The Philosophy of Loyalty’, describes loyalty as ‘the basic moral principle from which all other principles can be derived’. He goes on to term loyalty to be ‘a virtue, indeed a primary virtue – the heart of all the virtues, the central duty amongst all the duties’. As Cicero said, “Nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable, than loyalty”.
Loyalty is a unique trait. It isn’t grey. It is black and white – either one has it or does not have it at all. Loyal people will stay loyal all the time, no matter what and irrespective of how irresistible the ‘carrot’ is.
Conversely, a person who lacks the virtue of loyalty will never be loyal to any person, group, cause or entity. To him loyalty means little. Given the right allurement, he would not hesitate to forsake all that was seemingly dear to him. His approach to loyalty is need-based. Once the need changes, so does his loyalty.
Finally, if loyalty is an enduring trait of character, is it right to conclude that a man who betrays his wife or renounces his faith/religion/heritage has the virus of disloyalty deeply embedded in his DNA and genome? As a result, his loyalty to the nation, which many consider to be a tenuous and nebulous concept, should always remain suspect. Is this hypothesis too far-fetched and reasoning fallacious? Interesting poser, isn’t it!